Does art really have any effect on society?

E.g., does the mainstreaming of black music do anything to heal racism?

Or is any socially relevant content in art a symptom, rather than a cause, of social change?

I think black music has had an enormous effect towards healing racism. I remember when I was a (white) teen, you would get teased for daring to enjoy black music (rap really).

It’s not like that anymore. I think white kids today enjoying black music sans the racist stigmatism is a huge step forward in the right direction. Not that we don’t have more work to do.

How can anyone ask such a question? Art is at the heart of what it means to be human, and has been since humanity existed. In fact, maybe it’s the one defining feature of our species.

Yes, and not always for the better. The Birth of a Nation led to the reformation of the KKK.

Absolutely not always for the better, think of all the colossal statues by ancient tyrants and the focus the nazis put on their imagination of art.

Several movies and TV shows are credited with significantly changing American attitudes about LGBTQ people, for example: think 1993’s Philadelphia and the AIDS epidemic.

I don’t think you can neatly separate out cultural causes and effects that way. A work of art shifts the needle a bit on societal attitudes on a particular issue, which amplifies voices calling for change, which inspires the making of other relevant works of art, which inspire further changes, etc. The question of which phenomenon initially started the cycle is a chicken-or-egg debate.

But, what does art as “the heart of what it means to be human” have to do with politics or social relations?

Your original question was “Does art really have any effect on society?”, and since art is an elemental part of being human, of course it has. Imagine a world without art (if you can do). Do you think society would be the same?

But does a great work of art change your beliefs, or do you like the art because it says something you already believe?

Here’s a minor example:

In India, there are artists who paint trees trunks with religious scenes, which causes people not to fell the trees anymore. A similar movement has been initiated in Romania, under a profane ideology this time, where artists apply colors on the tree trunks of national woods in order to raise awareness about the importance of forests.

At least art is one of the means that shape your beliefs, in your formative years and beyond. After those beliefs have been formed, one will tend to pieces of art that match those formed beliefs, but of course art is still capable to alter one’s attitudes .

In a more explicit example, I’d argue all good propaganda is rooted in art, some expression of significance shared with its target audience, steeped in mutual culture and emotion. There’s entire museums devoted to this stuff. Religious art would probably fall into this category, and entire religions are founded and entire nations felled through pretty words on gilded pages adorned with fancy iconography. If that isn’t the power of art to compel belief, I don’t know what is. Even something like the iconic Nazi uniform is an aesthetic representation of their values and power.

Probably not all art is explicit propaganda, but a lot of art communicates or compels emotion/reaction/introspection/imagination in some way, so of course in some way it would have an effect on people and their behaviors in society.

I don’t even really “get” art, but it’s undeniably a force in our lives.

I don’t know if “mainstreaming of black music” heals racism but I do think that other items have been “mainstreamed” and influenced opinions. Gay rights would be a big one – people who don’t know any (openly) gay people or never had reason to question their own feelings about it get exposed to it through media and come around to (a) it’s no big deal if someone is gay; it’s just people and (b) yes, they deserve the same respect and rights as anyone. Without presentations in film, TV and music, the permeation of those ideas would be much slower if they happened at all.

I would push back against the idea of “mainstreaming of black music”.
I’m no musicologist but I know that American Rock 'N Roll would not exist in its present form ( nor in the nascent form it took in the early 1950’s ) if not for Robert Johnson.
Add to that his influence on British rockers ( Keith Richards, et al ) and it seems quite valid to say that black music was mainstreamed by the very earliest rock musicians.

There’s a phenomenon called “The Scully Effect” which posits that Gillian Anderson’s character on The X-Files inspired many young women to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. Don’t be surprised if the Marvel movies produce a similar “Shuri Effect” among the current generation of young women of color.

Hell, I’m an old man and Scully inspired me to go into the sciences! I used to have a custom made portrait of her on my wall.

Rock and roll was a direct offshoot of the rhythm and blues of the forties and fifties. When white kids started playing it they called it rock and roll, but it was largely the same type of music that was already being played by black musicians and listened to by black audiences. Some white kids (e.g. Elvis) added a country element.

Just as an example, Pat Boone made a fortune doing covers of records by black artists like Fats Domino, The El Dorados, and Little Richard. At the time Boone was considered a rock and roll star (hard to believe now, isn’t it?), and the guys he was copying were considered R&B performers.

You don’t have to refer to the influence of Robert Johnson (who died in 1938) on British rockers to uncover black influence on rock and roll. Rock and roll came directly from black music that was current at the time.